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Wednesday 22 April 2015 7:57pm

Professor Antony Braithwaite of Pathology won the top honour at the Dunedin School of Medicine and the Southern DHB Health Research Excellence Awards this week. Photo: Sharron Bennett.

Twenty years ago the University of Otago took a gamble on a young medical researcher. This week that researcher was given the Dunedin School of Medicine Dean's Medal for Research Excellence at a ceremony at the Museum's Hutton Theatre.

The medal is the top honour in the annual Dunedin School of Medicine and the Southern District Health Board Health Research Excellence Awards, and went to Professor Antony Braithwaite of Pathology.

It recognises his world-leading research on a gene that is mutated in more than 50 percent of cancer types. His work is aimed at finding a genetic Achilles heel which might be exploitable in the treatment of many different kinds of cancer. More recently he has become interested in how the same gene can trigger inflammatory diseases like arthritis.

"So Otago took a real gamble on me – that with my relative lack of experience, I could set up a high quality research group and facilitate research expansion in Pathology. This was successful."

Professor Braithwaite is one of the School's most well performed scientists. He has won over $5.8 million in grant funding in the last nine years from the Health Research Council, Royal Society Marsden Fund, and a number of other significant funding bodies.

He came to Otago from the Australian National University (ANU) to take up a Chair in Pathology in 1996.

“At the interview I argued that the only way I could do what was required of me, was to be provided with significant startup funds and a purpose-built laboratory for doing molecular biology,” he says. “Surprisingly the University/School of Medicine gave me $500,000 over three years (in those days enough to pay a postdoc and research assistant) and the new lab. I was 39 and was promoted from a Senior Research Fellow at ANU to a full professor. Quite a big jump!

“So Otago took a real gamble on me – that with my relative lack of experience, I could set up a high quality research group and facilitate research expansion in Pathology. This was successful.”

Professor Braithwaite helped develop the Department of Pathology.

“When I came to Pathology in 1996, there was essentially no research being done. It is now a vibrant research environment. Where teaching was once the strength of the Department, both teaching and research are strengths now; perhaps more in favour of research.”

Professor Braithwaite says the Medal means a great deal to him – it shows that the work he has done has been important for Otago.

The Dean of the Dunedin School of Medicine, Professor Barry Taylor, says Professor Braithwaite is a good example of the complete scientist.

"He has a wide range of interests, he is modest and persistent – often in the face of scepticism."

“He has a wide range of interests, he is modest and persistent – often in the face of scepticism. He has given much in return for trust and support from both the Dunedin School of Medicine as well as funding bodies – we honour him for this!”

The Health Research Excellence Awards celebrate the ongoing and unique research partnership between the University and the Southern DHB, and staff from both organisations gathered on Monday evening to celebrate excellence in health research.

Professor Taylor says they are an important way to acknowledge expertise and achievement.

“They also encourage new and emerging research and show how research can impact on the delivery of health care and the development of new treatments for major illness or disability.”

The winners were:

Dunedin School of Medicine Dean's Research Medal
Professor Antony Braithwaite (Pathology)

Dunedin School of Medicine Awards:

2015 Research Development Investments
Dr David Markie (Pathology)
“A centre for genomic sequence interpretation in Medicine”
Professor Greg Jones (Surgical Sciences)
“Developing novel cardiovascular disease screening tools for New Zealand communities”

Southern District Health Board Awards:

Surgical Directorate Award
Helen Williams, Surgical Service Manager

Mental Health, Addictions and Intellectual Disability Directorate Awards
Dr Patsy Tarrant, Registered Nurse/Clinical Nurse Specialist
Jeanette Love, Registered Nurse
Maria Baby, Registered Nurse

Women's, Children's and Public Health Directorate
Dr Vanessa Hammond, Public Health Analyst

Ian Densie, Medical Research Officer

Health Research Awards:

Research Support Person Award
Mrs Marie-Michelle Sullivan (Medicine)

Research Publication Awards
Associate Professor Patricia Priest (Preventive and Social Medicine)
“Hand sanitiser provision for reducing illness absences in primary school children: a cluster randomised trial”

Dr Lianne Parkin (Preventive and Social Medicine)
“Simvastatin dose and risk of rhabdomyolysis: nested case-control study based on national health and drug dispensing data”

Professor Ian Morison (Pathology)
“Green neutrophil and monocyte inclusions - time”

Best Health Research Poster Awards
Dr Euan Rodger (Pathology)
“DNA Methylation markers of myelodysplastic”

Imogen Roth (Pathology)
“The D122p53 mouse models the influence”

Jin Cao (Surgical Sciences)
“14-3-3 theta is elevated in lymphoid aggregates”

Best Published Paper by a Master's or PhD Student Award
Kate Thomas (Surgical Sciences)
“Reliability of contrast-enhanced ultrasound for the assessment of muscle perfusion in health and peripheral arterial disease”

Dunedin School of Medicine Prizes and Scholarships:

Gil Barbezat Summer Studentship Prize
Alison Ma (Supervised by the Department of Preventive & Social Medicine)
“Risk of bias in randomised controlled trials used to support pharmaceutical advertisement”

The Dunbar Scholarship
Ruth Harvie (Medicine)

The Frances Cotter Scholarship
Michael Maze (Preventive and Social Medicine)

Clinical Research Scholarship
Dr Maria Reyneke (General Practice and Rural Health)

Super Summer Studentship Award
Mostafa Amer (Medicine)
Angela Chou (Psychological Medicine)

Dunedin School of Medicine Departmental Awards:

General Practice and Rural Health
The Jan Breward Award for Research Excellence in General Practice
Jessica Young

Preventive and Social Medicine
Early Career Research Award
Mei-Ling Blank

Women's and Children's Health
Excellence in Research Support
Emeritus Professor Don Wilson (Women's Health)
Carmen Lobb (Children's Health)

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